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8 Irrelevant Facts About the NFL's Last Draft Pick

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With the Miami Dolphins prepared to take Michigan's Jake Long with the No. 1 pick in this weekend's NFL draft—the team has already signed the offensive tackle to a five-year, $30 million deal—speculation has turned to who St. Louis will select with the second pick. But the more intriguing question might be who the Rams will take with the last pick of this year's draft, the player who since 1976 has been referred to as Mr. Irrelevant.

Paul Salata, a businessman, philanthropist, and former football player at USC, will announce the final selection Sunday in New York City. While many others embody the underdog spirit, few celebrate it quite like Salata, the second of seven sons of Yugoslavian immigrants. In 1976, he founded Irrelevant Week, a celebration in Newport Beach, Calif., of the final player picked in the NFL draft.

While the draft has fewer rounds today—and the final player picked is no longer as likely to be the first player cut in training camp—the tradition continues. Events throughout Irrelevant Week include a regatta and sports banquet, where sports celebrities and past honorees roast and offer advice to the latest member of the dubious club.

kkirk.jpg1. The Inaugural Member

Fittingly, University of Dayton wingback Kelvin Kirk missed his flight to California for the first Irrelevant Week, forcing a stand-in to participate in the welcoming ceremonies and motorcade. Given how irrelevant the 487th pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers was, it's unlikely that anyone noticed. Kirk was cut by the Steelers in training camp, but played seven years in the CFL.

2. That's Low

The Lowsman Trophy—a brilliant parody of the Heisman Trophy, which is awarded each year to college football's most outstanding player—is presented to Mr. Irrelevant each year. The trophy, pictured above, artfully depicts a player who is either fumbling the ball or, in the case of the four quarterbacks who have been the last pick in the draft since 1976, on the receiving end of a woefully off-target pass.

3. Mr. Senator

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One of those quarterbacks was Bill Kenney, the 333rd and final overall pick of the 1978 draft out of Northern Colorado. Kenney made the Pro Bowl after leading the NFL in completions and attempts in 1983 with the Kansas City Chiefs and ended his career as a backup with the Washington Redskins in 1989. Kenney went into politics and was elected to the Missouri State Senate five years later. Among the bills he sponsored was one that created "God Bless America" and "Pet Friendly" license plates.

4. Extra Irrelevant

16.jpgAkron's Daron Alcorn became the first kicker taken with the final pick of the draft when Tampa Bay made him the 224th selection in 1993. Alcorn never caught on in the NFL, but he was a member of the Frankfurt Galaxy when they won the irrelevant World Football League championship in 1995 and later became a fixture in the Arena Football League. Football fans are still waiting with bated breath for the first punter to join the club.

5. The First Shall Be Last

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Former University of Alabama cornerback Ramzee Robinson, who had seven tackles in six games for the Detroit Lions last season, is the reigning Mr. Irrelevant. Naturally, Robinson wore No. 1 with the Crimson Tide before being selected with the 255th overall pick. Based on the photo evidence above, he seemed to relish his newfound fame. [Image courtesy of PubClub.com.]

6. The Last Shall Be First

In 1967, before the Mr. Irrelevant label was adopted, the late Jimmy Walker was the last pick in the NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints despite having never played college football at Providence. Walker, a basketball star for the Friars, was the No. 1 pick in that year's NBA draft. He went on to play nine years in the NBA, appearing in two All-Star games, and was the father of retired NBA shooting guard Jalen Rose.

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7. The Gustavus Adolphus College

Several Mr. Irrelevants were drafted out of major college programs, including Matt Elliott (Michigan), Everett Ross (Ohio State) and Norman Jefferson (LSU). And then there's Ryan Hoag, Mr. Irrelevant 2003, who caught 144 passes at tiny Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Among the more relevant graduates of the liberal arts school of less than 3,000 are Patsy O'Sherman, co-inventor of 3M Scotchgard, and Annie Martell, the first wife of singer John Denver.

8. That's Super

New England Patriots linebacker Marty Moore, the 222nd pick in the 1994 draft out of Kentucky, became the first Mr. Irrelevant to play in a Super Bowl when he appeared in the Patriots' 35-21 loss to Green Bay in 1997.

So who will be the latest player to join the club? The St. Louis Rams are on the clock.

* * * * *
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For more NFL Draft fun, here's a chance to test your inner Mel Kiper: How many of the last twenty #1 overall picks can you name in 5 minutes? Take the mental_floss quiz.

Scott Allen is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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